Mike Evans grateful to remain a Buc, hopes Baker Mayfield also returns

TAMPA — As it turns out, when Bucs general manager Jason Licht got the call Sunday night that free-agent-to-be Mike Evans had agreed to terms on a new deal to stay in Tampa, he was at a charity event hosted by Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper and talking with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.

Licht got off the phone and returned to the conversation, so Gretzky was one of the first people to find out that the Pro Bowl receiver was staying with the Bucs for another two years.

“I went back in and was fist-pumping and all that, and I told Wayne Gretzky that we had signed Mike Evans,” Licht said Friday at a press conference officially announcing the receiver’s return. “And he said, ‘Whoa, he’s a great one.’ I thought that was pretty cool for him to say he’s a great one.”

It takes one to know one, it would seem. Evans, 30, has already rewritten the Bucs’ receiving records and helped the team to a Super Bowl win and three straight playoff appearances since. Already the highest-paid player in franchise history, Evans signed a two-year deal worth $41 million, with the chance to push it to $52 million with incentives and escalators.

Evans had hoped to have a new deal done a year ago, but he helped himself by tying for the NFL lead with 13 touchdown catches in a contract year. After 10 seasons in Tampa, it looked like he could test the waters of free agency next week, at least to see what the market was like, but he said his wife, Ashli, with him throughout his time with the Bucs, ultimately convinced him they should stay.

“I don’t want to say I was waiting for my wife to speak up, but … it just hit her,” Evans said. “She said, ‘Maybe we should stay in Tampa.’ I was like, ‘I want to be in Tampa.’ They offered me great money. I just wanted to see everything as a whole. Are we going to get Baker [Mayfield] back? Things like that. I know I can play with whoever’s at quarterback. I hope it’s Baker, but if not, I can make it work.”

With Evans re-signed and safety Antoine Winfield franchise-tagged, the Bucs have locked up two central leaders from their Super Bowl team. But as Evans wondered, the question now is whether they’ll also be able to bring back Mayfield, who enjoyed a career year in his first season in Tampa, setting career highs in touchdowns (28) and passing yards (4,044) in leading the Bucs to a division title.

Like Evans, Mayfield has expressed a genuine desire to stay in Tampa, with talks continuing this weekend ahead of Monday’s window when free agents can begin talking to other teams.

“I just want what’s best for him,” Evans said. “I think what’s best for him would be to play with me and Chris [Godwin], but there’s a lot of great receivers in this league that could use his services as well. … I’m extremely confident. I’m not 100 percent, but he played really great for us last year. The city took him in, the players loved him. Hopefully, we get him back, but he should do what’s best for him.”

Evans was Licht’s first draft pick when he got the GM job in 2014, and the two of them endured six long years without a playoff appearance before the current run of four straight trips to the postseason. Evans has been the team’s Man of the Year three times, and he and Ashli have been active in the community with their foundation as well. 

“He means so much to this community and fan base, the organization, to me personally,” Licht said. “The moment we found out Mike wanted to be a Buc for life is something I’ll never forget.”

Evans has already built a strong résumé for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With just six more touchdown catches, he would become only the 11th player to reach 100 for his career. He said Friday he can see himself playing another five or six years in the NFL, and he knows he wants those years to be in Tampa, wearing the only uniform he’s ever worn as a pro.

“Obviously, it’s been well-known that I wanted to be a Buc for my whole career,” he said. “It’s very rare that you stay with one team your entire career, but it’s something that was a goal of mine and this is one step closer to one of my biggest goals. … All the coaches I’ve had, all my teammates, I’m really appreciative of what they’ve meant to me and done for me throughout my time here. 

“Tampa, I love y’all.”

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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